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Defense sums up case in Belgium Jewish museum slaying trial

BRUSSELS (AP) — A lawyer for a man charged with "terror murder" over the killing four people at a Jewish museum in Belgium set about dismantling the case against his client Thursday, accusing investigators of meddling with evidence, prosecutors of intimidating witnesses and some of the witnesses of lying.

Gesticulating and bickering with prosecutors in a display that had some lawyers snickering and Presiding Judge Laurence Massart frowning, Sebastien Courtoy claimed the 2014 slayings were carried out by Israeli intelligence agents and not his client, Mehdi Nemmouche.

Nemmouche, a suspected French jihadist who spent time in Syria, is accused of murdering an Israeli couple by shooting them in the back of the head at point-blank range with a revolver at the entrance to the Jewish museum in Brussels, before moving inside and gunning down two employees.

Courtoy claimed that investigators desperate to secure a guilty verdict had faked some of the security camera images from the scene of the crime — just a five-minute walk from the Brussels criminal court — which were shown to jurors during the trial.

He said investigators are bent on convicting Nemmouche because there were "four dead right outside the justice palace. It's an affront to the justice system." When he wasn't whispering in a confidential tone to jurors, Courtoy repeatedly chastised two prosecutors he claimed were annoying him. He said of one: "We know what his methods are. He was constantly trying to intimidate the witnesses. It won't work with me."

When it came to witnesses, Courtoy branded as liars some of the four French journalists who claim they were held hostage by Nemmouche in Syria. He also pointed out that a woman who was at the museum and said she had watched the attacker, identified him as being of European descent and aged in his forties. Nemmouche is a 33-year-old Frenchman of northern African origin.

Nemmouche's lawyers have claimed that the real killers were agents from the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and that Nemmouche was a patsy coerced into transporting the weapons. "It was a civil execution" of the Israeli couple, Courtoy told the court. He did not present any hard evidence of Mossad involvement. The court previously declined a request by Courtoy to call testimony from Mossad agents.

The 12 jurors must decide by a majority whether Nemmouche is guilty. Should their secret ballot be tied at 6-6, he would be found not guilty. A verdict is expected on March 7. Should he be found guilty, Nemmouche would likely be sentenced the following day. He faces up to 30 years in prison.

If he is acquitted, Nemmouche, who was flanked in court by two police officers in ski masks, would remain jailed as he must faces charges in France over the hostage taking in Syria. Nemmouche has mostly exercised his right to silence during the trial but has suggested that he will speak before it ends. Courtoy said the defense lawyers have been threatened and branded as anti-Semites, Nazis and fascists for defending their client.

An alleged accomplice, 30-year-old Nacer Bendrer, is on trial accused of supplying the revolver and assault rifle used in the killings.

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